I´ll never forget where I was on Kentucky Derby Day 2009.
The sun is still high in a remarkably high sky, chasing the clouds from the left corner of the horizon to the right along the jagged ridge of the Andes mountains. The moutain apus guard the valley of the lush green ancient city, jewel of Peru, and emblem of the Inca civilization.
There are several tourists still scattered along the high terraces to enjoy their perilously few remaining moments with Machu Picchu.
I´ve never been much into archaeological ruins, to be honest, and the tour here was similarly uninspiring. Irrigation systems hewn into the rock, massive quarries, interlocking stones–all interesting. But that´s not what makes this place special.
The dominant features of Machu Picchu are place and color. A city wedged like a saddle onto the granite monsters of the Andes, it serves as an observation point to all their rustic grandeur. These terraces, once used as hubs of agriculture, now form a virtual amphitheatre from which to view Huanay Picchu, the Rio Urubamba, the main square of the city, and ranges of the Andes two and three layers deep.
Clouds form a constantly shifting backdrop and frame for the former, infusing the city with life.
The color is green. Luscious. Verdant. Rampant. Green covers almost every inch of the city that isn´t a structure. The hillsides drip with it. It´s as if the Incas, who used to revere their sacred gods with gold in their temples, have changed their minds in the afterlife–Pachamama now loves green, and the world is better for it.
For the second time within a week, our morning began with a 4:00 am wrist-watch alarm wake-up. Still groaning and half asleep, we began the final intense ascent into the sacred city. (Yes, dad, they do have buses, so you´re a go for your next trip.) After an hour of climbing the steep stairs outside Auguas Calientes, an hour of sweating and panting and gasping for oxygen-poor breaths, an hour of cursing the idea of not taking the bus, we arrived at the end of the hike and the main gate of Macchu Picchu with a real sense of accomplishment and joy. And fatigue.
12 hours of exploring later, the fatigue has not faded, and neither has the joy. And tomorrow? We sleep in.